With just a handful of its new 365 by Whole Foods stores up and running, it’s hard – if not downright impossible – for all 87,000 Whole Foods Market employees to get to know the Austin-based chain’s newest offering.
There are just three of the stores, which target cost-conscious shoppers, open now – in Bellevue, Wash.; Lake Oswego, Ore.; and Los Angeles – with a fourth set to debut Wednesday in Cedar Park.
To help its employees – or “team members,” to use Whole Foods speak – get to know the 365 brand, Whole Foods teamed up with Austin advertising agency Hunt, Gather to create a virtual store simulator.
The simulator got some use at the Whole Foods “tribal gathering” in Austin earlier this year. It was also at Monday’s 365 media preview, where I took it for a brief spin.
A talking alpaca named Al Paca – yes, really – gives a few pointers before the fun begins.
The simulator is incredibly detailed, allowing users to even pick up items off shelves as they make their way around the store.
There are also several Easter eggs that were good for a few laughs. For instance, I grabbed a couple frozen chickens in the virtual butcher shop and went bowling … though I didn’t manage to knock down any of the 10 wine bottles that were acting as bowling pins.
The virtual reality setup is just one of many ways 365 is embracing technology:
• A 365-exclusive digital rewards program offers a number of members-only benefits, including 10 percent off about 100 products every day. New customers can also get $5 off a $25 purchase for a limited time.
• The store uses digital price tags on its shelves that can be changed remotely.
• A taqueria features several touchscreens that allow customers to place their orders – and pay for them for without having to go through the checkstands at the front of the store.
• A giant video wall made up of nine flat-screen TVs can be found near the meat market, airing a variety of promotional images and videos.
The Cedar Park 365 store opens at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
It’s at 5001 183A toll road in Endeavor Real Estate Group’s new The Parke development.